Saving the Northwest Spotted Owl

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Nothern Spotted Owl, Strix occidentalis caurina.

Image: HRF [larger]

Despite the fact that President Clinton set aside 7 million acres of forest for owl habitat, the northern spotted owl population is still peril. So the government is using another, very controversial, approach to save this icon of the Pacific Northwest: shooting its cousins, the larger and more aggressive barred owls.

Basically, barred owls push the mild-mannered spotted owls from their habitat and they also eat them -- or, very rarely, according to wildlife biologists, they mate with them. The rare hybrid offspring, informally known as a "sparred owl," has a "very strange hoot," as one wildlife biologist put it, "sort of like a spotted owl being strangled."

However, it is wrong to place blame for the spotted owl's decline onto the barred owl.

"This is clearly a shell game," said Dominick DellaSala, an environmental scientist on the Fish and Wildlife Service Northern Spotted Owl Recovery Team, which has worked on the plan. "It is a deception to deflect the blame away from habitat destruction. That is and that remains the biggest threat to the spotted owl."

DellaSala and at least one other member of the team say their recommendations were ignored by what DellaSala characterized as "a secret 'oversight committee' " in Washington, D.C. This committee de-emphasized habitat protection and instead pointed to the barred owl as the greatest threat to the spotted owl's survival. However, officials in charge of the recovery plan argue that the final report was not a bow to industry pressure to open more Northwest forests to timber harvesting. Others concede that short-term management of barred owls might be necessary.

"Competition from barred owls may well need to be addressed on an interim basis until spotted owls' populations can be returned to health," said Bob Sallinger at a public hearing in Portland last week. Sallinger is conservation director for the Audubon Society of Portland, Ore.

In fact, the shooting plan is strongly endorsed by many in the timber industry, and it doesn't seem to bother some people in southwestern Oregon, many of whom specifically blame the spotted owl controversy for decimating logging jobs in the region. However, reversing habitat destruction is key to preserving the spotted owl.

"But unless critical habitat needs are adequately addressed, barred-owl control will be nothing more than a sad and pathetic footnote on the road to spotted owl extinction," Sallinger noted.

Cited story.

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Yes, why protect something when you can shoot something else? Cos shooting stuff am fun.

Maybe they could get the boy who purportedly shot the monster pig to do it...

Science last summer had a news article about how the plan to save the spotted owl was going. They wrote that the plan was preserving old growth forest but the spotted owls were not recovering.

They mentioned that increasing population of barred owls could be a reason for this and noted that the barred owl was a wild card that no one really considered.

It raises the interesting question of exactly how far we should go in preserving species that natural selection would otherwise kill off.

It raises the interesting question of exactly how far we should go in preserving species that natural selection would otherwise kill off.
Posted by: Graham

It is a question; especially when we have managed to destroy so much old growth forest and so altered the environment so much. Is it still natural selection and humans just a catastrophic event?

Yes I know that humans are natural; but given our technology and the speed of the changes we make to the environment we are similar to a catastrophic event in the impacts we make.

I would say that we should, at the very least, try and mitigate some of the changes we have made and once a reasonable area of forest is similar to the original old growth only then can we perhaps leave it to natural selection.

The RSPBs Abernethy reserve is an example of preserving old growth and allowing it to expand naturally. The RSPBs raison d'etre is birds of course, but we can't seperate the birds from the environment.
So the members buy what they can to protect it. It is managed with specific aims in mind, there isn't much land in the UK which hasn't been managed for a very long time.

By Chris' Wills (not verified) on 04 Jun 2007 #permalink

How sad that shooting Barred Owls is even an option. Habitat restoration and conservation are the ONLY things that will help all around for all threatened species, hell for all species total, endangered or not. Good post. We don't want any species of owl nor the Boreal forest becoming a memory.